Family Photos in Jim Thorpe, PA

While planning our Jim Thorpe trip, my sister put forth the idea of organizing a family photo shoot while we were all together. She researched photographers and found Nikki Slivka Photography, who did such an awesome job capturing the beauty (and chaos) of our family of 15.

As all parents know, kids aren’t always cooperative photo subjects. It was a challenge during our session, but the kids enjoyed having some props like a parachute, bubble gun, and a ball, which helped us create awesome candid shots. The rolling hills of Jim Thorpe also created a beautiful setting.

I can’t recommend enough that any time you get together as a family, you seek out a photographer to capture your time together. I know it’s not always cheap, but I’m so glad that we did this.

Balderramas Back East – Phase 4: Washington, DC

After saying goodbye to our extended family, my daughters and I departed Ocean City, Maryland in our rental and drove to Washington, DC. As often happens when you travel with kids, we didn’t leave as early as we had hoped. An accident that forced a detour through Deleware also lengthened our drive. Our 3pm US Capitol tour appointment quickly became a bit of a scramble, but we were able to make it in time.

Before I go further, it’s important to note what I asked my daughters to do in DC. We had plans to visit the US Capitol, walk through the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, then tour the White House – all within a span of 30 hours. In order to do this, we’d have to do a lot of walking, in sweltering July heat. Over the two days, my daughters walked over 8 miles during hot summer days. Clara was able to put it all in perspective, but for 7-year-old Mariana, keeping everything in perspective was a challenge. It was easy for her to forget and not understand why we were trying to go to all of these places, which resulted in her looking pretty miserable in some of our photos. I hope that she’ll one day look back on this trip and appreciate all that we tried to do, but I accept that it’s not something she could have done at the moment. I am truly grateful that my daughters tolerated my ambition and I am proud of all they accomplished over our two days in DC.

US Capitol

We secured a guided tour of the Capitol which took us through the Crypt, the Rotunda, and the National Statuary Hall. It was really neat watching the girls soak in all of the amazing art and sculptures throughout the rooms. We got to see the famous John Trumbull Declaration of Independence painting and the amazing Apotheosis of Washington art in the dome of the Rotunda. The National Statuary Hall was also the Old Hall for the House of Representatives to meet, and the girls actually saw the spot where Abraham Lincoln’s desk sat when he was in Congress. Mariana also got a picture next to the statue of Rosa Parks.

We were one of the last tours of the day at the Capitol and after it closed for the day, we walked back to the Capitol Holiday Inn to check into our hotel. In order to save energy for our evening plans, we opted for ordering some pizza and swimming on the rooftop pool before we ventured back out.

Monuments at Night

As the sun started to set, we headed back out and rode the Metro for the first time, to the Smithsonian (which was just one stop away, but was exciting nonetheless). We walked towards the Washington Monument and got to experience it as the sun was setting. We enjoyed an ice cream cone while taking in the sights of the Washington Monument.

We continued westward and stopped at the World War II memorial. This was the first time any of us had seen it, and it was pretty powerful experiencing the serene beauty of the fountains, while the girls got their feet wet. We then found Colorado’s pillar and took a photo with our hands over our hearts, then kept walking west towards the Lincoln Monument.

I learned two things about the monuments: 1) They look incredibly striking at night and are an amazing experience. 2) You don’t appreciate how long the walk can be until you do it with little tired legs. The girls did hang in there and were rewarded for their perseverance with some incredible views. It was amazing watching both of them – but especially Clara with her perspective – encounter Abraham Lincoln’s statue up close.

Clara just stood there, with her hands over her head, just awestruck. It’s a moment that I’m going to remember for a long time.

I looked at my watch and saw that we ended up walking six miles for the day. At that point, it was 10:15 pm and it was imperative that the girls got a good night’s rest for our next big day. We opted for an Uber to get back.

The White House

The day before we left on our trip, we received the great news that we landed a tour of the White House. This turned out to be our only activity for Tuesday (more on that, later). After sleeping in after the previous late night, we packed up, checked out, and dropped off our bags at the front desk. We then grabbed a quick breakfast at the Starbucks two blocks from the White House and lined up for our tour.

The verbiage of the tour ticket said we needed to show up 15 minutes before our allotted tour time. The reality, however, was that there was a line that snaked through the sidewalk on the east side of the white house, which forced a lot of waiting in the summer heat. It turned out to be too much for a poor kid a few people away from us, who collapsed from heat exhaustion. It was amazing watching the police, EMTs, and various helpers converge so quickly. Luckily the kid was alright and rejoined the line. I was just hoping that the same heat wouldn’t afflict the girls in the same way.

We finally entered the White House through the East Wing which took us through the main floors of the White House. It surprised us all just how small the actual White House was. The pictures and videos of the East Room and the State Dining Room gave them a much bigger scale than they actually were. We also saw the Red Room, Blue Room, and Green Room, which aren’t connected by hallways, you simply walk from one room into the other.

We then took a picture under the Seal of the President, then exited through the back of the White House (although in the video I mistakenly said it was the front), walking under that iconic lantern chandelier.

We stopped and got some lunch at Five Guys, a few blocks from the White House, and then took the Metro back to the Smithsonian to go see the National Air and Space Museum. Much to our chagrin, we realized that the Museum was under renovation and required pre-ordered tickets in order to enter. At that point, we cut our losses, picked up our bags, and decided to leave DC for our hotel near the BWI airport. We traveled there by taking the Metro, the MARC train, and two buses, all with three suitcases, three backpacks, and a booster car seat. We arrived at the hotel tired, hungry, and ready to sleep early, as we had to get up the next day at 4:30am to catch our flight home.

Thus ends our two-week excursion through four states, fifteen family members, hundreds of photos, and lots of new memories. We had spent months getting excited about this trip – and it didn’t disappoint. However, it’s great to be back home and enjoy the last few remaining weeks of summer.

Balderramas Back East – Phase 3: Ocean City, MD

After getting our fill of mountain and full family time in Jim Thorpe, PA, we ventured further east to Ocean City, Maryland. Earlier this year, when our family was trying to find a gathering point, a sizable segment of the family wanted a beach getaway, resulting my mom traveling with my sister, Christina, her family, and mine to get our beach fix at Ocean City.

Traveling from Jim Thorpe to Ocean City on a Friday presented some challenges with traffic, turning our 4-hour trip into a 6.5-hour trip. Our accommodations for the next few days was a 3-bedroom condo, which luckily didn’t feel too cramped for the nine of us. We finally pulled in after 6 pm, too late to spend any meaningful time at the beach. That didn’t stop us from unpacking as quickly as we could so that we could put our feet into the ocean.

I captured this video of everyone talking on the beach for the first time.

With kids, of course, “putting feet” into the ocean quickly turns into getting your clothes soaked. They enjoyed their little taste of the ocean, anxious for spending the rest of the weekend on the beach.

After a restful Friday night, we ventured to the Ocean City Boardwalk, which embodied the stereotypical image that I formed in my head as we were planning. It was complete with tourist shops, fried food stands, along with an amusement park (which luckily wasn’t yet open for the day).

We did a little shopping, loading up on some stickers and magnets, then took a walk to the pier to get a full view of the ocean. We opted to go earlier in the morning so that we could devote as much of Saturday to beaching. Everyone was anxious to get back to our condo, however, so that we could quickly hit the beach.

We spent the rest of the day playing in the ocean and on the beach, getting our fill of waves, sun, sand, and games. The last time we had been to the ocean, in 2018, we had a more secluded experience in North Carolina. At Ocean City, the beach was much more crowded, but we managed to carve out our little space for a beautiful afternoon. Right when we were packing up, we saw some fins from dolphins that were swimming out in the ocean.

We did learn, the hard way, that the limit for the kids being on the ocean was about 4 hours. Many of the kids were melting down by the time dinner time rolled around. We fed the kids some mac and cheese, while the adult got a seafood boil that was probably too spicy for them anyway. After 2018 though, I learned my lesson and stayed away from drinking too much of the broth.

After the kids went to bed, Christina, Tony, and I ventured back onto a beach for a moonlit walk to see what we could find on the beach. We found a cool surfing toy, as well as a baby seagull that was looking for his parents.

Recognizing our time limits, we shifted our Sunday schedule to include two separate times at the beach. We went immediately after breakfast for a two-hour stretch, with another trip planned for the early evening. In between beaching, Tony and I went to go pick up my rental car for Phase 4, while everyone else went back to the Boardwalk before we met back up for an early dinner.

Mariana had enough of the beach and was ready to get cleaned up, but while we were up in the room, a horseshoe crap washed up on the shore. After checking it out, it was returned back into the ocean.

We ended our time at the beach by writing “SOB ’23” (Summer of Balderramas) in the sand – a tradition that we started back in Daytona that we’ll continue as we venture to other beaches.

Sadly, with the conclusion of Phase 3, we also ended our team with our extended family. The girls and I packed up on Monday morning and made our way towards Washington, DC – the final phase of Balderramas Back East.

Balderramas Back East – Phase 2: Jim Thorpe, PA

After our wonderful time during Phase 1 of our trip, we set out on Sunday to make the 2+ hour drive to the Poconos Mountains, specifically, Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania, for Phase 2. This phase was the focal point of our trip, as it was the first time my siblings and mother had gathered together in over two years.

My sister found and coordinated a VRBO home just outside of Jim Thorpe that accommodated all 15 of us (7 adults and 9 kids) – a fantastic find. Each adult/couple had their own room and bed, while the five oldest grandchildren slept in a room with two bunks and a twin bed. The three-floor house also featured a nice game room on the basement level with a pool table, foosball table, and shuffleboard. Usually, that would be awesome, but with so many kids under 10, the pool balls became magnets of destruction that quickly had to be hidden.

Of our six-day stay, I spent three of them working remotely, while my family ventured out to explore and enjoy Jim Thorpe and the surrounding area. Rather than give a day-by-day chronology of our trip, I’ll share some highlights of our time together in this house in the woods, reflecting just how quickly the week passed, and what a blur it became.

Decorating the house for my mom’s birthday

The whole basis for this trip was to celebrate my mom’s birthday (as she had one ending in a “0”). On the first night, after my mom and all her grandchildren went to bed, my siblings and I went downstairs to blow up balloons and decorated the main level. We blew up dozens of balloons and balloon words, then snuck onto the main level and found ways to hang them that didn’t involve using any tape. The evening was filled with lots of laughing, creativity, and fun. Everyone woke up to a fun surprise.

An image of the main floor of our vacation rental, with balloons that read "Happy Birthday 70", "Love You Wow", and other balloons draped over the television on the wall.

Riding the Train

We took a trip on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway and took in some of the beautiful scenery. The kids absolutely loved the train and being in the open-air car. The ride was the perfect length to keep the attention of 7 kids under 12. It was great seeing the Poconos Mountain countryside, but I’m honestly partial to the Royal Gorge Route Railroad in Colorado.

This video of Clara taking in the training experience stole my heart.

Family Photos

On Tuesday evening, we connected with a photographer to get some full family shots, venturing out to this pasture next to a lake (I’m sorry, but I don’t recall which one). The scenery was very majestic and I think we got some great shots. We were also reminded just how challenging it can be to photograph young kids in an unfamiliar setting. Our photographer was extremely patient with the kids, but we definitely had to temper our expectations. I’m anxious to see how they’ll turn out.

Just hanging out at the house

We had tons of fun just all being under one roof. The kids played a ton of Just Dance on the Switch, with most of them not being able to beat Dax, their 4-year-old cousin. Throughout the day we ate and drank well, played lots of games, laughed, relaxed, and just enjoyed having everyone together.

Sadly, the end of the week, and Phase 2, came all too soon, and I had to say farewell to two of my siblings as they ventured home. We all packed up our things and headed out, towards the next phase of our trip: Ocean City, Maryland.

Balderrama’s Back East – Phase 1: New York

After months of waiting, my girls and I are on our long-awaited trip to meet up with family back East. This post covers our first leg of the trip: Binghamton, NY.

We booked the flight with Frontier Airlines, which is always more than you’ve bargained for. In this case, our departing flight got rebooked twice and had us leaving Denver before 7am. This resulted in our original airport shuttle being canceled, and the other airport shuttle moved us up another hour. The girls and I had to be out of the house by 2:30am. We luckily got on the shuttle and got to the airport in time. We were grateful for the extra hour, as the DIA security line wrapped all the way to baggage claim. We made it to our flight, although bleary-eyed.

We got into Binghamton and got picked up by Tony, my brother-in-law, and spent the rest of Wednesday getting settled and acclimated to our new home for the next few days.

For me, this was also a working trip, so I spent the day working remotely during Phase 1, while my daughters went out and enjoyed parts of Binghamton. Everyone spent Thursday at Animal Adventure Park and seeing different animals. Clara and her cousin, Sonia, got to hold some parrots. The girls also witnessed a first-hand lesson on turtle procreation.

On Friday we took in a little Americana by watching a Double-A baseball between the Binghamton Rumble Ponies and the Somerset Patriots. During the 7th inning, a massive rainstorm moved in and despite only lasting about twenty minutes, flooded out the field. The teams concluded the conditions were too dangerous to keep playing and called the game. However, they proceeded with an amazing fireworks show that actually made up for a canceled July 4th display from the prior week.

Our last full day in Binghamton was spent at Beer Tree Brew, where they had a cute craft fair and some great food. There’s a slow stream near the brewery where the girls waded and swam – the perfect way to cool off during a hot and humid day!

The rest of our time in Binghamton was filled with quality cousin time, play, and enjoying our family’s home and hospitality. Sunday was spent packing and heading out for Phase 2: the Poconos Mountains.